Dynasty Draft Profile: Justin Hardy
April 1, 2015 | Rich Hribar
*MSYD = % of Team Receiving Yardage
Justin Hardy has been a highly productive player over the past three seasons. Although his raw totals improved each year, so did East Carolina’s volume. His 387 receptions during his career are the most by a collegiate player since 2000 and he is just one of 11 receivers to catch 300 or more passes over his college career over that same time span.
|Justin Hardy||4||East Carolina||387|
|Jordan White||5||Western Michigan||306|
|Antonio Brown||3||Central Michigan||305|
|Taurean Henderson||4||Texas Tech||303|
Of course, you’re going to stack production by staying in school for the full four seasons and one of the biggest knocks on him is he may be a capped commodity and his production profile suggests there’s some merit to the claim. In terms of efficiency and share of the passing offense, Hardy broke out as a sophomore yet his production largely stayed neutral over the past two seasons while hanging right on the thresholds in efficiency.
I don’t want to take away from a player who stayed in school for the full tenure as there are real life implications in play other than football, but in a strict football future sense, Hardy may have benefited entering the draft last season. That’s not a death knell to his future because he remained steady as the feature receiver in his offense, but it may mean that he needs to end up in the right situation to become a safe floor player right off the bat in the NFL, instead of strictly remaining as a low ceiling one in a low volume passing attack.
His physical profile illuminates the type of receiver he is, which is an intermediate pillar of dependency. His three cone time was the best recorded at the combine this season and is a top 10 score all-time at the event. He dominates the intermediate route tree running a plethora of sticks, slants, screens and option routes all at high level with his agility as the hallmark strength of his game.
In unison with his agility, he’s also a very intelligent and instinctive player, making himself available more than anyone in this class when the initial play breaks down. In this regard, a team with a high volume offense with an immediate need inside combined with a quarterback who extends plays would be an ideal fit to maximize his ceiling right away. A team like the Steelers would be an ideal destination for him if they were willing to shelve the dreams of Markus Wheaton being a major factor. He really lacks a second gear in terms of speed to be a consistent vertical option against NFL caliber corners, but for a smaller receiver, his body positioning combined with good vertical, long arms and large hands make him a bigger target than his size suggests.
I believe Hardy is the best interior receiving option available after Amari Cooper in this class, but unlike Cooper, doesn’t have the surrounding attributes to extend beyond that capacity. While really refined at what he does best, Hardy’s type of receiver has shown to be cheaply replaceable in the NFL. He’s often compared to Jarvis Landry and my subjective comp would be Ryan Broyles, but we also have the luxury of pulling up his objective physical and final season production comparables.
|Isaiah Burse||Fresno State||2014||UFA||22.1||70||188||4.58||31.0||115||3.94||6.74||7.7||78.9||0.5|
|Justin Hardy||East Carolina||2015||TBD||23.0||70||192||4.56||36.5||114||4.21||6.63||9.3||114.9||0.8|
All of his closest comps were players selected in the late fifth round and beyond, suggesting that he is in fact overvalued by the draft community this spring as a third and even fourth round option. The other bugaboo surrounding Hardy which also plays into why he may already have peaked as an asset, is that he’s an older prospect as he will turn 24 years old during his rookie season. That’s historically been a red flag for future fantasy production from receivers selected outside of the first round. Below is every rookie receiver outside of the first round that was 24 years old or older that posted 40 points or more in their first season and their subsequent top 30 scoring fantasy seasons.
Just nine of the 55 players here went on to post multiple top 30 fantasy seasons and none of those players was a rookie selected over the past 20 years. I do believe in a good situation that he can immediately exceed the 60 receptions that Austin Collie had in 2009 (the highest of the cohorts), but it’s still sobering on his overall outlook for future fantasy production.
With the dust settling, I see Hardy as a much better real football option than a fantasy one. The good news is that although he has garnered a lot of real football buzz, he’s remained at paltry prices on the fantasy market. Through early rookie ADP collected at Dynasty League Football, he’s on average the 31st player selected and the 15th receiver. It’s hard to really be negative about that cost as he could easily exceed that cost in year one. For teams contending this season with little receiver depth he’s a nice addition, but that’s an area of the draft where I’m inclined to make a play on chasing a ceiling rather than a floor.
Hardy seemingly fell into good hands to the Falcons as the as the 16th receiver selected in the draft. The departure of Harry Douglas and his 74 targets a year ago allows Hardy to step right into a role he’s familiar with and can be successful in on the intermediate level since he’s really just a bigger version of Douglas.
Although Julio Jones and Roddy White occupied a massive piece of the team target share (46.2 percent in 2014), they each have missed games in the past two seasons. Hardy is a fine compliment to the offense and serviceable in a pinch if the top options go down for an abbreviated stint, but a complimentary piece is all he’s going to likely be as his profile suggests. New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has historically run a shallow distribution passing game that goes through his X receiver and the most targets his third receiver has gotten in a season is 73, with just two topping 60 targets over seven seasons. That group of third options isn’t exactly full of decorated resumes, so given that Atlanta is more offensively inclined for passing volume than previous Shanahan stops, maybe the two can merge in at least maintaining a Douglas-like level of volume. Although he will never be a league winner, his attachment to a good quarterback, playing behind a 33-year old wide receiver in White who has been injured recently are enough to keep his stock near the top of the third round in rookie drafts.
Early 2015 Projection: 79.5 TGT/52.5 REC/597.9 YDS/1.6 TD